Table of contents executive Summary

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NASA Science Mission Directorate

Earth Science Division

2009 Annual Report

Executive Summary 1

From the Director 2

Program Elements & Execution 4

Science Missions & Accomplishments


CALIPSO - Cal/Val 8


Decadal Survey Support

Missions 10




EPA Joint Sensors Mission 13

High Winds 15

Interferometric SAR Ice

Mapping in Greenland 17

Operation ICE Bridge 19

Western States Fire 21

AAFEx 23


TM Relay 26

Instrument Test Flights


TWiLiTE 28

CO2 Laser Sounder 29


Airborne Science Program Elements: Science Requirements & Management

Science & Requirements 32

Flight Requests 33

Joint Airborne Science Sensor Integration Working Group 35

Aircraft Platforms

Introduction 38

DC-8 39

ER-2 41

WB-57 43

P-3 45

G-III 46

Catalog Aircraft

NASA LaRC Aircraft 47

NASA GRC Aircraft 49

Ikhana 50

New Technology & Platform Development

Global Hawk 53


Common Data &

Communications Systems 56

Science Instrumentation, Facilities, & Support Systems

Airborne Sensor Facility 59

Dryden Aircraft
Operations Facility 62

Collaborations and Partnerships

FAA Liaison Efforts 64

International Activities &
Collaboration 66

Media, Education & Outreach



CeNAT Workshops 72

Newsletter 73

Recognition & Awards 74

Looking Ahead to FY10

and Beyond 75


In Memoriam 78

Airborne Program History 80

Five-Year Plan 83

ASP Bibliography Project 84

Acronyms & Abbreviations 86

NASA’s Airborne Science Program had another busy year in FY09. The program flew missions and instrument tests on five core aircraft, eight catalog aircraft, and two new technology unmanned aircraft systems. The program completed a total of seventy flight requests for almost 1900 flight hours. More than a dozen different customer communities were served in all six focus areas of NASA Earth Science and related aerospace fields.
In 2009 we focused significant effort on the Cryosphere and completing IPY related missions. Greenland and Iceland ice monitoring missions were successful far-field missions for the G-III carrying the L-band UAVSAR and a new Ka-band SAR. The Characterization of Arctic Sea Ice Experiment (CASIE) mission proved our new SIERRA UAS, flying out of Svalbard, Norway. Operation Ice Bridge saw the P-3 in Greenland in the Spring while the DC-8 was outfitted for a major Fall mission over Antarctica, flying from Punta Arenas, Chile. The G-III with UAVSAR completed its first fully operational year with over 500 hours, including flights in Alaska.
In addition to launching the mid-size SIERRA UAS, our Global Hawk UAS was readied for its first science mission – GloPac – to take place in early 2010. Other missions, Pre-GRIP and GRIP, are in the pipeline for Global Hawk as well.
The DC-8 was the laboratory home during summer 2009 for the inaugural session of the Student Airborne Research Program (SARP), headed by the National Suborbital Education and Research Center (NRERC). With this success, we are planning another program for 2010.
Programmatically, the Airborne Science Program was impacted significantly in 2009 by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which has provided funds for needed upgrades and new capabilities. These efforts will provide payload portability and similar capability for near-real time data downlink on all platforms. Many of the outcomes from this program are expected during 2010.
Finally, the Airborne Science Program is looking forward to continued Operation Ice Bridge efforts, to participating in Earth Venture-1 missions, and to supporting upcoming satellite missions, including Decadal Survey missions.


Welcome to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Airborne Science Program. In this 2009 version of our Annual Report, you will be presented with the breadth of our accomplishments and the work done to benefit the Earth science community on behalf of NASA and the Nation. FY2009 has been a truly memorable year for the Airborne Science Program with numerous firsts and some notable missions. I expect that after reading what we’ve done and plan, you will also recognize that NASA’s Airborne Science Program is a remarkable national capability.
To start off though, I’d like to share an experience I had this year.
I was explaining some aspects of the Airborne Science Program to someone new to the program recently in the presence of one of our science focus area leads. In response to a question of how the program determines its portfolio, I conveyed that the program takes its guidance from our customer community; we focus on the priorities of our customers. Around this point, the science focus area lead, an individual I consider a strongly supportive customer, softly interjected: “partners”. I was somewhat unprepared for being corrected at that moment, but continued on with the discussion with the new “customer “ exchanging the term “customer” with “partner” as I thought appropriate.
Over the next few weeks the conversation kept creeping into my thoughts. Why would someone want me to change “customer,” to “partner”? Based on a substantial amount of customer feedback, the program had worked hard to be seen as highly customer focused and responsive to our customers versus process driven. From subsequent feedback, it had appeared that the program had turned the corner and was being viewed as very customer conscious, resulting in a lot more favorable customer feedback. One of my internal explanations went to identifying the differences between “customer” and “partner”. Without looking up the words in the dictionary I came up with customers are usually receivers of goods and services for which they pay. Partnership on the other hand infers a relationship based on some common goals and mutual interests. Partners are more likely to sacrifice for the greater good of achieving long term common goals. Partners are vested in each other. In the hierarchy of relationships, “Partners” appear to be on a higher level than “Customers”. In a subsequent meeting with the same focus area lead, I brought up the matter again and he concurred that his intent was to convey, probably both to me and the new customer, that he saw the relationship between the Airborne Science Program and his focus area as a “Partnership” rather than a receiver-provider “Customer” relationship.
The Program is committed to staying on track: working collaboratively with our partners for mutually beneficial outcomes by providing quality, responsive and relevant airborne science services to the community. We’re here to support and do it in a safe, efficient, cost effective, and value-added manner.
In keeping with those thoughts, I would like to cover some of the substantial achievements of the Airborne Science Program in 2009. FY2009 saw the G-III with the Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) become operational and demonstrate some of its potential in supporting International Polar Year (IPY), tectonic, terrestrial ecology and hydrology science. The P-3 and DC-8 inaugurated the first Operation Ice Bridge campaign season flying over 400 hours (far exceeding expectations) and collecting data on sea ice and glacier elevation, ice extent and bed characteristics. Operation Ice Bridge also included some coordinated flights with the G-III / UAVSAR’s IPY mission, in addition to a collaborative effort with the National Science Foundation and British National Environmental Research Council’s ICECAP mission in Antarctica. To round out Operation Ice Bridge, a catalog aircraft flew in southeast Alaska to measure glaciers.
In 2009, the WB-57 saw the superpod nacelle mated to the wings and completion of the gross weight increase certification of the landing gear, both critical capability enhancements for future missions. The Program also experienced a number of firsts. As part of IPY, the SIERRA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) flew its first science mission: Characterization of Arctic Sea Ice Experiment (CASIE). The multi-sensor payload successfully flew over 3000 km of sea ice out of Svalbard, Norway. The Global Hawk UAS flew its first NASA flights using a totally redesigned ground operations center. Finally, the Student Airborne Research Program (SARP) completed its first class with 29 students from all across the US.
Programmatically, 2009 was an eventful year. Airborne Science was provided $28,046,000 of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to execute the first year of Operation Ice Bridge, in addition to investments to modify and sustain its fleet and science support infrastructure. The program was also assigned a Small Satellite, Unmanned Aircraft System project to develop enabling technologies for those emerging platforms. Airborne Science also made progress in the international and national arenas. Nationally the program members finished their work on a Federal Aviation Administration Aviation Rulemaking Committee on Small UAS, executed work under a UAS Memorandum of Understanding with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and remained active in UAS in the National Air Space and Interagency Coordinating Committee on Airborne Geoscience Research and Applications (ICCAGRA) efforts. Internationally, the Program was active in developing collaborative relationships with the European Fleet for Airborne Research (EUFAR, the European Union counterpart to ICCAGRA) and the Chinese Center for Earth Observation and Digital Earth, as well as membership on a working group to address UAS-enabled Arctic science missions supporting the Arctic Council.
The year also saw Andrew Roberts, our Program Director for the past 2 years, retire from NASA. Andy will be missed. During his tenure the Program grew healthier as he focused on bringing funding and mission stability to the centers, recognizing the program’s professional performers, being increasingly responsive to the community and showing exceptional leadership. On behalf of the entire Airborne Science Team, I invite you to read through our 2009 Annual Report. We, as a program, are very proud of what we do and have accomplished and we would like to share that with you.

Randal Albertson

Airborne Science Program Director



The Airborne Science Program consists of the following program elements:
1. Science Requirements and Management

2. Airborne Science Platforms

(a) Core Platforms (DC-8, WB-57, ER-2, G-III and P-3)

(b) Catalog Platforms (agency, interagency, commercial)

3. New Technology and Platform Development

(a) UAS (Global Hawk, SIERRA)

(b) Common Data and Communication Systems

4. Science Instrumentation and Support Systems

NASA Headquarters is responsible for determining program direction and content through the strategic planning and budget formulation processes. The program office is the interface to the Science Mission Directorate ensuring that program activities and investments support the broader agency. A major change in the program this past year was to remove core aircraft from the catalog and manage them individually.
Implementation of the major program elements takes place at the various research centers.
Ames Research Center has a lead role in program analysis, advanced planning, and science mission management. This includes management of Program flight requests and field campaign management through the Earth Science Project Office. Instrument and software support, flight planning, and development of interface standards are performed out of Ames Airborne Sensor Facility in partnership with the University of California. In addition, Ames personnel manage and operate the SIERRA UAS.
[GRAPHIC: Figure 1: NASA’s Airborne Science Program organization.]
Dryden Flight Research Center leads the operation and maintenance of the core DC-8, ER-2 and G-III aircraft. They also operate and maintain aircraft in the new technology and platform development area, including the Global Hawks. Another area Dryden is been actively engaged in is over-the-horizon network and communications research and development. Dryden oversees the cooperative agreement with the University of North Dakota’s National Suborbital Education and Research Center. Dryden also manages the Dryden Aircraft Operations Center in Palmdale. For Program Year 2009, the Ikhana will be moved to catalog management and the G-III will become a core platform.
Goddard’s Wallops Flight Facility is the lead for operating and maintaining the core low-altitude heavy-lift P-3B aircraft, and managing the catalog aircraft program through safety oversight of contracted aircraft. Wallops also continues the work in the field of small-class Uninhabited Aircraft Systems (UAS) research.
Johnson Space Center contributes to the program primarily by operating and maintaining the core WB-57 high-altitude research aircraft.
Langley and Glenn Research Centers support the program by providing access to their platforms through the catalog.
The FY09 budget for the Airborne Science Program was $31,271,000 with additional $28,046,000 in stimulus (aka American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds) for a total of $59,317,000.
The breakdown into major components is shown in Figure 2. The history, including ARRA funds, is shown in Figure 3.
[GRAPHICS: Figure 2: Airborne Science Program budget breakdown; and Figure 3: Airborne Science Program recent and projected budgets.]



Science Focus:

Carbon Cycle and Ecosystem Science

HQ Sponsor:




From February 27 through August 31, 2009, a total of 26 AVIRIS science flights were conducted on the ER-2 totaling 89.9 flight hours. It included a deployment to Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, OH, for the months of June and July. NASA sponsors included Diane Wickland and Andrew Roberts. Experiment sites included areas in central and southern California, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota. AVIRIS data was also collected over experiment sites in Alberta and Ontario, Canada.

The series of AVIRIS flights were initiated with an in-flight spectral, radiometric, spatial, and uniformity calibration and characteristics of the AVIRIS imaging spectrometer. The science data gathered over experiment sites included the following: The characterization of forest functional types and their role in mediating ecosystem response to environmental change; Carbon cycling, vegetation nitrogen status and surface albedo.
Science data gathering was successfully completed by the ER-2 team over all requested experiment sites.
Scientists included Philip Dennison, Dar Roberts, Scott Ollinger and Phil Townsend. The AVIRIS instrument manager was Michael Eastwood.
For more information, visit: http//
[GRAPHIC: Figure 4: Lunar Lake, NV Calibration site measured by AVIRIS from 65,000 feet on August 19, 2009.]

Science Focus:

Atmospheric Composition and Chemistry

HQ Sponsor:



Hostetler (Caliop), McGill (CPL)

A series of flights on the LaRC B200 was flown to verify the calibration of the CALIOP lidar on the CALIPSO satellite before and after the switch from the primary to the backup CALIOP laser transmitter ( on March 12, 2009. The High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) was deployed on the B200 for eleven underflights of the CALIPSO satellite starting in January and ending in April. The data proved conclusively that the calibration of the satellite instrument was not affected by the change in lasers.

For more information, visit:
The objective of the CPL flights on the ER-2 for CALIPSO cal/val was to provide validation measurements of the CALIPSO 532 nm calibration algorithm at northern latitudes under cloud-free conditions. High-altitude flights to 68N over Canada, during daytime, were viewed as the best possible way to validate the CALIPSO 532 nm calibration. The presence of an unexpected and persistent volcanic ash layer at high altitudes (from the Sarychev Peak Eruption in the Kuril Islands several weeks earlier) provided both an unanticipated cal-val opportunity and complicated the objective of calibrating CALIPSO under pristine conditions. Figure 5 is the CPL data trace showing volcanic ash.
For more information, visit:
[GRAPHICS: Figure 5: CPL signal showing volcanic ash, and Figure 6: HSRL Deployed in NASA Langley King Air B200.]

Science Focus:


HQ Sponsors:

Kaye, Albertson



The Characterization of Arctic Sea Ice Experiment (CASIE), flown from Svalbard, Norway on the SIERRA UAS in July of 2009, was the aircraft campaign portion of the larger, NASA-funded IPY project titled “Sea Ice Roughness as an Indicator of Fundamental Changes in the Arctic Ice Cover: Observations, Monitoring, and Relationships to Environmental Factors.” This 3-year research effort, which combined satellite data analysis, modeling, and aircraft observations, includes scientists, engineers and students from the University of Colorado, Brigham Young University, Fort Hays State University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory working together with research aviation specialists from NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The project is attempting to answer some of the most basic questions regarding the future of the Arctic’s sea ice cover. In particular, our work will help us better understand one of the most fundamental changes in sea ice cover in recent years – the loss of the oldest and thickest types of ice from within the Arctic Ocean. This change has been rapid and extreme. For example, our analysis of satellite data shows that the amount of older ice in 2009 is just 12% of what it was in 1988, a decline of 74%. The oldest ice types now cover only 2% of the Arctic Ocean as compared to 20% during the 1980’s. Not only does this change affect the total amount of ice in the Arctic, but it also affect the ability of the ice cover to resist increased warming. In turn, this loss of the old ice types will influence activities such as shipping and mineral exploration, and it is important for marine mammals and fish that use the ice cover as safe havens and platforms.
CASIE’s role in this project was to provide very detailed information on ice conditions by using a small unmanned aircraft (NASA’s SIERRA) that can fly long distances at low altitudes – a job that can be difficult and dangerous for large, manned aircraft, especially in the harsh Arctic environment. The primary payload consisted of 2 LIDARS and a C-Band SAR for providing information on ice surface roughness and topography, thickness, reflectance, and age. For this mission, the SIERRA team developed an icing warning system, in consultation with NASA GRC and NCAR, to provide the ground station with temperature and humidity data in real time.
For more information, visit:
[GRAPHICS: Figure 7: This map shows the nearly 3000km of flight tracks over sea ice during 5 separate science flights of the CASIE payload on the SIERRA UAS; Figure 8: This collection of images shows the SIERRA on the Svalbard tarmac and details the instruments integrated into the nose and forward fuselage.]
Decadal Survey
Support Missions

Since the National Research Council published its Decadal Survey report, “Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond” in 2007, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has established science teams and is in the process of implementing these 15 new missions. The Airborne Science program has been working in parallel to support the Decadal Survey missions by flying instrument simulators and algorithm development experiments, and preparing to fly calibration and validation missions. The Program has also established relationships with the science teams to understand their upcoming needs and assist in planning through use of the flight request system and 5-year planning process.

In late FY08 and into early FY09, ASP flew PALS on the P-3 in support of Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP). This will be the first of Decadal Survey missions to launch and additional fieldwork is anticipated. The Aerosol-Cloud-Ecosystems (ACE) mission will also make significant use of ASP assets beginning in 2010.
The ICESatII mission is being supported by Operation ICE Bridge.
Specific campaigns in FY09 in support of Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice (DESDynI) and Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Nights, Days, and Seasons (ASCENDS) are discussed in detail below.
The IPY experiment flying an experimental Ka-band SAR on the G-III (described in the IPY section) also supported the Surface Water/Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission by flying a payload comparable to a simulator instrument that will be flying in the near future.


Science Focus:

Carbon Cycle & Ecosystem Science, Earth Surface and Interior

HQ Sponsors:

Wickland, Dobson


Simard, Saatchi, Sequeira, Parrish, Aanstoos, Kearny, Jones, Rignot, Zebker, Moeller

The Deformation, Ecosystem Structure, and the Dynamics of Ice Mission (DESDynI) has been described as “a dedicated U.S. InSAR and LIDAR mission optimized for studying hazards and global environmental change.” The recently-developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) system represents the L-Band Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar component of that mission. Designed to fly on multiple aircraft, including Global Hawk, the UAVSAR flew 440.2 hrs during the period January 22 to October 2, 2009, on the NASA Gulfstream – III (G-III) aircraft. These sorties primarily were repeat-pass InSAR flights supporting early science objectives related to each of the focus areas for the DESDynI Mission.

Deformation studies included seismic activity and mudslide potential studies along the Hayward and San Andreas faults; California, Levee studies in the Sacramento Delta and along the Mississippi River; Subsidence along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, and Volcanic activity in the Cascades, Yellowstone, and the Alaskan Aleutian Islands.
Ecosystem Structure studies included Kings Canyon in the Sierra Nevada, Boreal Forest sites in Canada, New Hampshire, and Maine, mixed forests in Pennsylvania and at the Harvard and Duke Forests, and coastal wetlands in North Carolina and Florida.
Finally, data to study the Dynamics of Ice were collected on a major deployment to Greenland and Iceland. (Described as part of IPY).
Deformation Studies in Southern California due to Seismic Activity
Deformation studies in Southern California were conducted as a series of missions originating and recovering at Dryden. Large contiguous areas were imaged along the San Andreas and Hayward faults from the San Francisco area to the Mexican border. Baseline imagery was collected from February 18 to April 4, 2009. Repeat pass imagery was collected from September 9 through September 21, 2009. The G-III flew 57.8 hours in support of three flight requests from Principal Investigators Paul Lundgren, Andrea Donnellan, and Eric Fielding to examine changes along the fault zones. Some of the same data are also being used by Eric Fielding and Catherine Jones to examine risk of mud slides in burned and defoliated landscapes. Additionally, repeat pass data were collected over the adjacent Sacramento delta region to examine potential stresses in the levee system (PI Jones).
Volcano –related Deformation in the Cascades, Aleutians, and Yellowstone
The G-III flew 51.4 hrs in support of Principal Investigator Paul Lundgren’s study of deformation related to magma movement in the Cascades, the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, and Yellowstone. The cascades were flown en route to and from two deployments to Anchorage, Alaska (June 21-23 and September 28- October 2, 2009). The Aleutians were flown on June 22 and September 29 using two sorties for each collection. (A refueling stop at Adak Is was necessary to complete each collection.) Baseline Imagery for Yellowstone was collected en route to New England on June 31, 2009.
For more information, visit:
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